Lotus has always had a special place in the hearts of jam-fans and festival lovers. Their music sends you on an interstellar journey while simultaneously keeping you connected to everyone around you. As festivals have begun to incorporate both jam and electronic acts, Lotus has been there evolving with these events. Pioneers in bridging the gap between these two genres, they’ve created a “jamtronic” style that is entirely their own.
Following their show at Gem and Jam Music Festival Feb 2-5, I caught up with Jesse Miller (bass and sampler) to find out more about the evolution of the band, his solo project, and Lotus’ place in the festival scene.
Sparkleberry Lane (SBL): Where are you from and how did you first get into making music?
Jesse Miller (JM): I grew up in Colorado and got started with some bands in high school. At that time I also started composing, and we had a high school band with some of our friends with a horn section, so I started writing charts for them. That pushed me towards doing more composing, so I studied that in school, and at the same time we were starting Lotus in Indiana at Goshen College. Early on we were pretty active and would play shows up in Michigan and around the town where we were going to school. We traveled around a bit, so it progressed from there. When we graduated school and moved out to Philadelphia, the band started taking on bigger and national touring.
SBL: Who were some of your biggest influences when you first got started, and who are some of your biggest influences now?
JM: Early days of Lotus were more influenced by jam stuff like Phish, but nowadays I can’t listen to that band. We are always taking cues from funk and jazz, like Herbie Hancock, 70s era stuff, even though that isn’t really what Lotus tends to play. Bands that got us bringing in electronic influences into a rock band setting were groups like Underworld and the Orbs. We would listen to those records thinking, even though this is totally different instrumentation, how can we take ideas of repetition, minimalism, and dance beats and bring them into what we’re doing. Nowadays I listen to all kinds of stuff. For me, influences are not necessarily a one-to-one thing. I don’t necessarily hear one particular style and want to make something like that, usually it’s a little more abstracted. I’m into a lot of minimal garage rock stuff like The Kills, The Oh Sees, Deerhunter, stuff that doesn’t really sound like Lotus, but for me it’s the kind of music that I like to listen to and inspires me to write stuff even if it’s in a different direction.
SBL: Did you and Luke always know that you wanted to have a band, or was it something that manifested over time?
JM: I was into music when I was younger, but I was also into visual art, writing, and sports, so having a band wasn’t any kind of fore-drawn conclusion. I gravitated more and more towards music and started bringing more of my attention and time into it, so ended staying up in that realm.
SBL: You use both instrumental and digital applications on stage. Can you tell me what that process has been like and how much your rig has changed over time?
JM: I was always really interested in studio work, and early on in the group I’ve always pursued the idea of getting a more electronic sound. Luke originally just played guitar in the band, then he started to bring in a synthesizer and I took up the sampler. This was pre-laptop days, there wasn’t really a good program to bring that stuff onto stage, so I had this sampler that you would load up with zip disks to bring in extra sounds and do things that we couldn’t pull off live. So that was the evolution of it, and the further we went the more we saw possibilities with bringing things we were doing in the studio to stage, like when we would record horns or a string section or a guest singer or different kind of electronics. Eventually it moved to Ableton set up, not too much different than what I was doing before, it expanded what I could do with it and how flexible it was. If for some reason the zip disk crashed, it wouldn’t take 5 minutes to reload it or track down parts for this obscure sampler. I’m not sure which year I started using the Ableton set up, maybe like 7 years ago, otherwise my bass set up has remained largely the same.
SBL: What’s your favorite part about being onstage?
JM: You get this really immense rush when performing live, especially to a captive audience. If you have the power of a good PA behind you, it really makes the things you’ve been crafting in studios, on headphones, and in practice fully come to life. I see it as a realization of the art.
SBL: I want talk a little bit about your solo project Beard-O-Bees. Can you tell me a little bit about the project and what the inspiration for it was?
JM: Beard-O-Bees evolved out of some early experiments I was doing with remixes and different studio techniques. Eventually that lead into writing some of my own stuff, and testing out different live techniques like more controllers and playing samples live. That lead into exploring more with analog synths, and getting into that whole world. So for me, the solo project is a venue to experiment with sounds and things I don’t normally do for Lotus, but may eventually want to bring into Lotus. It’s also a way for me to indulge my weird electronic side.
SBL: Where did the name come from?
JM: I don’t remember exactly where we came up with it but it started out as this joke at the height of the EDM scene, or when it was really coming up in the US. You would see what I thought were gimmicky DJs, it was my idea to have this thing called beard-o-bees; it was basically a parody EDM act that would do everything that was an EDM cliche but amp it up 10 times. Eventually that just became the solo name for my actual garage act
SBL: Lotus has been playing festivals for a long time and now you have your own festival Summerdance – how have you seen these events change over time and how have you seen the festival culture change over time?
JM: It’s definitely changed. Festivals have become more mainstream in a lot of ways. In the early days there wasn’t really an overlap between jam music and live music and DJs. They would have events but they would be completely separate, and now they’re coming together. You see a lot more pop music coming in, I guess those two are kinda similar in some ways. To me, festivals used to be much more of a hippie fair, at least the stuff we were playing at, and slowly DJs started playing late night. Then with the rise and popularity of electronic music, at almost all festivals you see even that if there’s a lot of live bands, there will still be DJs. I guess there’s more of a variety of music, but also changing popularity. There’s also a lot more festivals, and it’s become much more of a mainstream thing. I think the first Bonaroo was the kick off of that, it seemed to come out of nowhere booking all these groups, and I think sold out the first year. After that you had a lot of festivals trying to follow that model.
SBL: What made you guys decide to throw your own festival (Summerdance)?
JM: In some ways its our festival, it kind of evolved into that. It started off with that venue booking Lotus to play at this festival they were having called Summerdance, and I think Lotus maybe headlined one of the days, but there were a bunch of other artist. They got a lot of feedback from the fans saying that they want more Lotus, so the next year we came back and it was two nights of Lotus. Then it became apparent that that weekend was focused around Lotus, and each year we started taking more and more of a role in helping to get the opening bands, and eventually now were putting the whole lineup together. We definitely didn’t set out to put on a Lotus festival, it just evolved into that.
SBL: I want to talk a little bit about your most recent album, Eat The Light, and the remix album. I really enjoyed both of them, and I like how you described it as “a fun catchy pop record that doesn’t need a catalytic life story to be explained.” My question is, because albums these days are so easily accessible on Spotify and can be shared so easily, do you feel like the work put into the album is devalued?
JM: Umm..probably (haha) but I think you have the opportunity to reach more people. Even for myself there’s so much music coming out on a regular basis, I can’t even keep up with the groups I really like. I think it’s easy for someone to put an album on their laptop speakers once and kind of half focus on it, work on something else kind of listening, but in this setting you’re already dealing with downgrading the sound quality so much- if you’re streaming as opposed to full digital file, or even better getting vinyl. I think it’s the day and age we live in. If you can get people to really spend some time with it and focus on it, then there’s something to be gained there. We’re definitely dealing with so much information daily and things to check out, it’s hard to really engage an album or any kind of art really, take it on and process it for a while.
SBL: I’ve heard that you are quite the beer connoisseur, so I wanted to see if you had a favorite beer right now.
JM: I never really have one favorite. I always like to mix it up, but I’m heading out to CO later today and whenever I’m out there I try to get some Crooked Stave. I’m really into their wild beers and sour beers, so if you live in CO and haven’t been over to CS or tasted those beers I would really recommend it.
SBL: At Sparkleberry Lane our mission is to spread the sparkle. We do that by encouraging others to live consciously around the music and world that we love. How do you spread the sparkle?
JM: I’d say with music. Something that I’m thankful for is that my hobby and my career are basically the same thing, so when I’m not making music with Lotus I’m off working on projects with my friends and helping them out in whatever way I can. So for me its continuing on with that and trying to realize music and art whenever I can.
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